Focused deterrence strategies

Law enforcement and community agencies that use focused deterrence strategies, also called pulling levers policing, unite to target a particular crime in a community. Program implementers research key offenders, behavior patterns, and context of offense then use all legal tools, or levers, against those offenders or groups of offenders and provide direct social services to them. Focused deterrence strategies often include direct communication with offenders and groups through group meetings, called forums or call-ins, with law enforcement, service providers, and other community organizations. Meetings inform the offenders of acts that will get law enforcement’s focused attention, how behaviors should change to avoid enforcement action, and which social services are available for support (Campbell-Braga 2012). Focused deterrence strategies are primarily based on problem-oriented policing and are often less resource intensive than zero tolerance approaches (Felbab-Brown 2013).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced crime

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that focused deterrence strategies reduce crime when applied with fidelity. Interventions targeted at gang or group violence and drug market-focused interventions have demonstrated particularly strong effects (Campbell-Braga 2012).

Gang-involved shootings have been shown to decline among gangs that participate in Boston’s Operation Ceasefire, the initial focused deterrence-based effort, more than non-participating gangs (Braga 2014*); this program also demonstrates benefits among non-participating gangs that are socially connected to participating gangs (Braga 2013*). An evaluation of The Group Violence Reduction Strategy (GVRS) in Chicago, based largely on focused deterrence principles, indicates greater reductions in shootings among gangs who participate in group meetings with law enforcement and are told about a focused deterrence message than non-participating gangs (Papachristos 2015*).

In New Orleans, GVRS has been shown to reduce gang-involved homicide and firearm homicide. Following implementation, homicide rates in New Orleans decreased more than rates in other US cities with similarly high chronic crime rates (Corsaro 2015*). Focused deterrence efforts in Cincinatti and New Haven yield decreases in gang involved homicides 42 months and 24 months post intervention, respectively (Engel 2013*, Sierra-Arevalo 2016*).

An evaluation of a North Carolina-based initiative that applied focused deterrence approaches to intimate partner violence (IPV) suggests this approach can also lead to decreases in IPV-related calls, victim injuries, and offender recidivism (Sechrist 2017*).

In general, multi-dimensional community-based approaches such as focused deterrence strategies are more effective ways to reduce gun violence than less comprehensive approaches (Makarios 2012*). Strong commitment and leadership from local law enforcement and action plan development appear to be important components of successful focused deterrence policing efforts (RAND-Saunders 2016).

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

Focused deterrence strategies are used in Boston’s “Operation Ceasefire” and in Philadelphia (PSIJ-Focused deterrence), Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Newark, Nashville, and some smaller cities (Campbell-Braga 2012). A model of focused deterrence, the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) is implemented in a number of cities, including Chicago, New Orleans, Oakland, and Baltimore (NNSC-GVI). 

Implementation Resources

NIJ-CrimeSolutions - National Institute of Justice (NIJ)-CrimeSolutions. All programs and practices.

PSN-Resource coordination - Project SAFE Neighborhoods (PSN). Sustaining focused deterrence strategies in the middle district of North Carolina: Site and resource coordination. Practitioner Brief 2; 2013.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Campbell-Braga 2012 - Braga AA, Weisburd DL. The effects of “pulling levers” focused deterrence strategies on crime. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2012:6.

Braga 2014* - Braga AA, Hureau DM, Papchristos AV. Deterring gang-involved gun violence: Measuring the impact of Boston's Operation Ceasefire on street gang behavior. Journal of Quantitative Criminology. 2014;30(1):113-139.

Braga 2013* - Braga AA, Apel R, Welsh BC. The spillover effects of focused deterrence in gang violence. Evaluation Review. 2013;37(3-4):314-342.

Papachristos 2015* - Papachristos AV, Kirk DS. Changing the street dynamic: Evaluating Chicago's Group Violence Reduction Strategy. American Society of Criminology. 2015;14(3):525-558.

Corsaro 2015* - Corsaro N, Engel RS. Most challenging of contexts: Assessing the impact of focused deterrence on serious violence in New Orleans. Criminology & Public Policy. 2015;14(3):471-505.

Engel 2013* - Engel RS, Tillyer MS, Corsaro N. Reducing gang violence using focused deterrence: Evaluating the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). Justice Quarterly. 2013;30(3):403-439.

Sierra-Arevalo 2016* - Sierra-Arevalo M, Charette Y, Papachristos AV. Evaluating the effect of project longevity on group-involved shootings and homicides in New Haven, Connecticut. Crime & Delinquency. 2016:1-22.

Sechrist 2017* - Sechrist SM, Weil JD. Assessing the impact of a focused deterrence strategy to combat intimate partner domestic violence. Violence Against Women. 2017:1-23.

Makarios 2012* - Makarios MD, Pratt TC. The effectiveness of policies and programs that attempt to reduce firearm violence: A meta-analysis. Crime & Delinquency. 2012;58(2):222-44.

RAND-Saunders 2016 - Saunders J, Ober AJ, Kilmer B, Greathouse SM. A Community-based, focused-deterrence approach to closing overt drug markets: A process and fidelity evaluation of seven sites. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2016.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

PSIJ-Focused deterrence - Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal (PSIJ). Focused Deterrence in Philadelphia: Fighting Crime with Redemption and Hope.

Campbell-Braga 2012 - Braga AA, Weisburd DL. The effects of “pulling levers” focused deterrence strategies on crime. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2012:6.

NNSC-GVI - National Network for Safe Communities (NNSC). Group Violence Intervention (GVI).

Date Last Updated